Category Archives: Monthly Musing

A Fare to Remember

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On any given day, I can ballpark the average airfare to most anywhere in the world from the major North East airports.  Possibly from US airports elsewhere if I know there’s been a recent sale.  Flexible date search is my temptress and flash fare glitches the bane of my existence (last January’s Delta glitch still haunts).  I spend my mental breaks refreshing Airfarewatchdog’s Twitter feed and exhausting the Kayak “Explore” function, desperately scanning for That One Flight: the perfect combination of affordable price, exotic destination, and convenient time period.  The unicorn of airfare searches.

I’m Sam, and I have an airfare addiction.  Sure, it’s not dangerous like drugs or alcohol, but it is equally (and literally) escapist. They say acceptance is the first step on the path to healing, and I saw a recent quote that made me admit my problem.  I’m not usually one for quotes, but after an hour or so spent trying to secure an unrealistic escape to Costa Rica, this one struck me at the right moment:

“Travel is the best investment you can make in yourself.” – Joel Sartore.

With the exception of those who are fabulously rich, most people don’t travel on a whim.  We don’t wake up on a Tuesday morning and secure a spontaneous trip to Greece, following our second cup of coffee and a surprise deal from US Airways.  For most of us, travel takes planning and careful saving.  It often means sacrificing something we want now so we can stay at a nicer hotel or treat ourselves to dinner at that fancy Parisian restaurant with a “Chez” name.

Like most investments, travel yields returns.  But we can’t calculate travel returns because they’re emotional, and thus difficult to imagine beforehand–particularly when spending a large sum of money up front.

But investments with more risk always have the potential to reap greater returns.  In my searches for That One Fare, I wanted low risk, but big reward.  To pay the least amount I could for a flight that would send me off on an epic adventure while still leaving a comfortable amount in my bank account.

It’s just not realistic.  Investing in travel (and thus ourselves) means putting our money where the mouse is.  That One Fare is an escape–but not the way I intend it to be.  It’s a convenient excuse to never book travel because it’s “too expensive” or “not the right time.”  Airfare deals can help us finally secure that trip we’ve been dreaming about, but they shouldn’t be determining our dream trips.

So, I’ve decided to stop scrolling and start investing.  Maybe one day I’ll catch the airfare unicorn.  But before that, I think I’ll just catch a flight.

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December 27, 2014 · 10:43 pm

Now You See Me…

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It’s 1 a.m. in Minneapolis, and my friend and I are sharing a 20-inch tall, boot-shaped glass of beer with three young professionals we just met. Polka music is playing in the background, and the air smells like cinnamon and wood smoke.  With each sip of dark brew, we become more pleased that we heeded the advice of a random article about “best hipster bars” and took a cab across town. We each take turns allowing a 75-year-old man to waltz us around the room to the rhythm of the accordion.  We laugh at each other’s expense when he gets a little too close for comfort.  The lights dim and the polka fades into hip hop and the old man disappears.  My friend gets caught up in conversation with a dark and handsome stranger.  I forget myself and approach the attractive guy I spotted when we first walked in.  He’s all-American – blonde hair, blue eyes, and built like a football player.  I grab his hand and lead him into the crowd, knowing that after tonight, he’ll never see me again.

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When we travel, we try to absorb as much about a destination as we can.  That’s the point: to discover some place new and discover more about ourselves in the process.  So it makes sense to believe that the longer we stay somewhere, the more we learn.

But there’s something to be said for fleeting getaways.  The quick trips we take just to escape for a moment, where there’s not enough time to adapt to a new environment – there’s only the present.

When we travel somewhere briefly, we remove the stress around doing things “right.”  We don’t have to worry about running into someone we know, or ordering the wrong food, or mispronouncing a word from our phrasebook.  We’ll be gone tomorrow.

Short-term travel might seem a little selfish, but only because it’s liberating.  For one or two days, we can be bolder, braver versions of ourselves.  We can come into people’s lives suddenly and leave them just as soon – and that’s okay.  We can throw ourselves right into the heart of a city with no preparation and little hesitation – and often learn more than we ever would have with more time.    Maybe we don’t come out with lasting friendships, or a new outlook, or a list of best restaurants, but we still leave with memories.  And those are always worth the trip.

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Monthly Musing: Small Talk

There’s just something about a great view.  City skylines, mountain valleys, the deep blue expanse of ocean thousands of feet below the airplane window.  Views are often earned–after a long climb up narrow staircases or rocky hills–and sometimes surprises.  No matter how we arrive at them nor the scenery that awaits, the feeling is always the same: that removed quiet.  Lost in our thoughts, in the beauty and the vastness of it all, it is always quiet.

And despite how many people are around us, or however many have witnessed the same sight before us, we always feel that it is ours alone.

“I have to show you my view,” we tell friends. “One day, I’ll take you,” we say, as if we are its sole keeper, and it is only ours to share.

A great view is the traveler’s gift and his curse.  We travel to seek out the world, to absorb it, to conquer it.  A great view shows us everything and nothing at the same time.  It deludes us.  “Now I’ve seen it all,” we think, when deep down we know that though we’ve seen scope, we will never be able to see every detail.

We often gasp at the sights our eyes behold.  But are we really stricken by the beauty?  Or is this intake of breath just our minds remembering that we are small?  Just one tiny object occupying space, silly enough to think that this entire view could ever be only ours.

We try to claim things as our own in hopes that we’ll leave our mark on the world.  Travelers are especially guilty of this.  We take pictures, buy mementos, write articles, just to ensure that others know where we’ve been.  But there’s a reason why the picture of a view never turns out quite as good, why it’s beautiful, but no longer awe-inspiring.  A great view refuses to be contained.

And this is how it should be.  We can never fully comprehend a great view and we should never try.  When we are stuck in the real world, tirelessly working to forge a name for ourselves, a great view brings us back down to Earth by presenting us with a glimpse of its wonders.  One look and we realize that sometimes, it’s better to let go and lose ourselves in the “big-ness” of it all…

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Monthly Musing: Off the Map

Everyone has his or her own list of dream destinations, places where, if we had the time, the opportunity, the money, we’d drop everything for the chance to experience.  Places that we are so compelled to that we’ll flip right to an article about them in the latest issue of our favorite travel magazine, or suffer through PBS’ ceaseless contribution requests to hear the scoop straight from Rick Steves.

My friends and I often discuss our travel wish lists, exhausting an extra hour at dinner with visions of street souks, petit bistros, and Icelandic hot springs.  New destinations are easy to add to the list.  We catch a photograph of a place we’ve never heard of before and we’re hooked–we have to go there someday!  And while it’s fun and magical to imagine the moment we step off the plane and into that long-awaited adventure, our travel fantasies are undoubtedly biased.

Because, in addition to our Must-Gos, we also have the Oh-Nos, the places that violence, politics, and war have figuratively wiped off the map for anyone not a soldier or a native.

As eager travelers, we like to think that “the world is our oyster.”  Advancements in cultural and eco-tourism encourage this notion–that even far, far away is still within reach.  We always think about all the places out there for us to explore, but rarely do we dwell upon the reality that there are some places we never will.  There are countries that will never have their own guidebooks, that will only occupy our fears and never our dreams.

Dismal circumstances have marked these places with a foreboding “X,” and we quickly write them off as “too risky.”  To do so may be quick, but it should not be easy.  Because when we erase a destination from our personal maps, we also erase all of its stories–the people we’ll never meet and the things we’ll never see.  And the world we try so hard to understand, to capture and contain with our words and our photographs, becomes a little bit smaller.

 

Above image found on Google Images is an illustrative example. I do not own the book rights.

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Monthly Musing: Gone with the Wind

One thing never fails with any trip you take: it goes by in a flash.  Finally your departure day arrives, the anticipation that has slowly been building at last released when you touch down at your destination.  But then WHOOSH!  In a whirlwind of sightseeing, trekking, or relaxing, you find yourself back at the airport, dazed with post-vacation content, one week in the future.

Unless you take an extended trip that really allows you to immerse yourself in the place you visit, vacations undeniably pass too quickly.  Four years ago, my family and I traveled to Greece–a dream trip finally realized.  Although we returned to the States ten days later with a little more color, bearing souvenirs and a memory card full of pictures, the most frequent question we ask when reminiscing about our trip is, “Were we really there?”

My mom attributes the fleeting nature of a long-awaited trip to an inescapable dilemma:

“You’re worried you’ll never be able to visit the place again, so you cram in as much as possible, and before you know it, the trip is over.”

Of course, hers is the logical, practical explanation, but I like to think there’s something more behind it.  We travelers know that in five days, two weeks, even a month, you can never truly grasp the essence of a place–no matter how inclusive the tour package.  Perhaps trips pass so quickly not because they wish to be forgotten, but because they want to ensure that we’ll return.

We visit a place, but we hardly ever come to know it, like a great first date without any follow-up.  You meet in a flurry of senses and emotions, only to disappear from each other’s lives shortly after.  My mom, ever the realist, assumes the likelihood of visiting the same place twice is slim when there are so many others you long to see. And yes, this will often be true.

After most worthwhile trips, there are always some regrets–a hike you wish you’d taken, a painting viewed, a wine tasted–for which time, ever unforgiving, did not allow.  But perhaps you are never meant to see or remember it all. Because with each aspect you fail to discover, there is promise.  Promise that your yearning to fill the gaps will grow over time, will always be at the back of your mind, will maybe–one day–grow just strong enough to ignore the other destinations on your list and urge you back.




This post is the first in a monthly series, Monthly Musing, in which I share some of my travel reflections.

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